Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education

27Jul/09Off

Beach-Combing Emerald Isle and Topsail Island, NC

(Note: As always, click image for better versions - these are heavily compressed)

Emerald Isle, NC

Last weekend we had a short but nice going away get-away with some friends (psychology graduate students, a parole officer, and a lawyer/rockstar) in Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

My dorky goal was to find more fossilized shark teeth (see previous awesome finds here), in addition to the obvious general goal of having a salty time.

Unfortunately, a storm kept most of the cool ocean debris from washing ashore until Sunday morning. Nevertheless, I found quite a few interesting things.

First off: fossil shark teeth!

Fossil Shark Teeth

Fossil Shark Teeth

The Haul:

The Haul 1

The Haul 1

The Haul 2

The Haul 2

The Haul 3

The Haul 3

Skate Egg Case:

Skate Egg Case

Skate Egg Case

Unknown wicked fish jaw:

wicked fish jaw

wicked fish jaw

Shell Fossils in matrix:

Shell Fossil in matrix

Shell Fossil Cast in matrix

Shell Fossil in matrix

Shell Fossil Cast in matrix

A cool fossil of what I think is a bryozoan.

Fossil Bryozoan

Fossil Bryozoan

I found a nice piece of fossilized bone. Of what? Who knows? Probably whale or dolphin. Or perhaps mermaid.

Fossil Bone

Fossil Bone

I also found several chunks of what I believe is either anthracite coal, or the next metamorphic step - graphite (I'm no geologist - thoughts?). It's very light weight, very hard, and very faceted - which doesn't come across very well in still shots:

Anthracite Coal?

Anthracite Coal?

Anthracite Coal?

Anthracite Coal?

One of the coolest things I found is a relation to organisms I will soon be working with in my new lab: starfish!!
I found two of these, both beautifully colored and still alive. They were washed ashore by the storm, so I tossed em back. I have no idea the likelihood of their survival, but I can say they didn't wash back ashore over the next two days. (I'm awaiting the expertise of Christopher Mah of the Echinoblog for species identification).
Update
: it's a Royal Sea Star, Astropecten articulatus. Quoth the EchinoMaster: "Basically..they are your stereotypical "sand star" predatory on infaunal bivalves and pretty common on sandy-muddy bottoms of the Northeast US.  Attractively colored animals to be sure!" Thanks Chris!

Starfish

Starfish

Starfish

Check out those details!

Starfish

Tube Feet Alive!!

We also got to hit the NC Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. It's a pretty rad place, so I was way more interested in pointing my eyes at all the ocean wonders, rather than pointing a camera. But I did get this cool shot of a gator.

Gator

Gator

Ooh - and apparently someone else took a shot of us there - me and John playing with the rays (the ray touch tank was by far the coolest part!).

Petting the stingrays

Petting the stingrays

Topsail Island, NC

A month ago, we also had the opportunity to hit Topsail Island, NC.

Fun was had. Things were seen.

Shark Teeth (Yes - I showed these before).

Fossil Shark Teeth

Great colors!

Fossil Shark Teeth

Ocean smoothed - but still pretty wicked

Mole Crabs (Emerita sp.)

Mole Crab (Emerita sp.)

Mole Crab (Emerita sp.)

Ghost Crab (Ocypode sp.)

Ghost Crab (Ocypode sp.)

Ghost Crab (Ocypode sp.)

And that's it - images are all I have for you at the moment. Enjoy.

I swear, I will have slightly more posts once I get moved to Pittsburgh and settled.

And just because I never show her (she's camera shy), I'm sneaking in this shot of my wife:

A Psychologist

Three Psychologists

5Jul/09Off

A Tale of the Hunt for Fossil Shark Teeth

As someone who has been a lifelong fossil collector, I have a terrible, unforgivable sin to admit: I lived for eight years in North Carolina and never knew of the existence of Aurora, NC.

Mind you, since moving here for graduate school, fossil hunting had fallen off of my priority list, largely owing to the fact that central Carolina rocks are basically all metamorphic (melted and recrystallized by heat and pressure). And I've never been the gung-ho research-fossil-sites-and-go-hunting type. Since I began collecting while living in the Ozark mountains, it was more of a walk-through-my-parents-woods-and-see-what-fossils-I-find-today sort of hobby, with a few far-flung excursions in the mix.

Well that all changed a few weeks ago. My wife, some friends, and I spent a couple of days at Topsail Beach, NC.

Actually - scratch that - it began a few month's ago, when Christie at Observations of a Nerd reported an awesome find of fossil shark teeth in Florida, and then - like the wonderful person she is - sent me a handful of them.

Shark Teeth from the wonderful Christie

Shark Teeth from the wonderful Christie (Note to Christie - they are ray dental plates - not stingray barbs - just learned that - see below)

Back to Topsail Beach, circa a few weeks ago.

I said to myself, "Self - it's the ocean - there are bound to be fossil shark teeth. You (I) will not allow me (myself) to leave this beach without finding at least one shark tooth."

So I spent all my beach time on Saturday perusing the sands for teeth.

To no avail whatsoever. I never saw one.

The next day, I began again, searching much more intently. While combing the fresh tide-swept beach, I saw a tiny black triangle amidst the shells. It was a shark's tooth!!

The filters through which my perception is sifted were now calibrated. Within the next few hours I had a nice handful of tiny teeth. I was ecstatic.

(Note for the fossil pros and beach inhabitants out there: feel free to laugh at my ignorance of what constitutes awesome shark teeth. But these were just about the coolest things I had ever found - at the time.)

Hold your applause - you aint seen nothing yet

Hold your applause - you ain't seen nothing yet

Tiger Sharks - grrrr...er...meow

Tiger Sharks - grrrr...er...meow

Thus was I hooked on shark teeth.

The next necessary stops in my tale are the mountains of West Virginia and hills of Pennsylvania.

Some of you know that I will recently begin a new job at Carnegie Mellon University. As such, we have driven there twice recently. I am utterly awed by the massive amount of roadcuts through the mountains of the two states, all of which reveal millions upon millions of years of Earth's natural history in it's geological strata. I felt the fossil-hunting bug really kick up several notches while driving through those strata.

Thus, in anticipation of my move, I began hunting online for potential fossil sites in Pennsylvania. In this endeavor I discovered The Fossil Forum. Through this forum, I discovered not only a huge community of avid fossil hunters, experts, and enthusiasts, but also that North Carolina has some of the most amazing shark tooth sites in the country.

"Self," says I, "it's bad enough that you've been here so long without discovering North Carolina's fossil sites - but now you are leaving? I forbid you (myself) from leaving until you have visited these sites. Got it?"

It was decided - the July fourth weekend was my only free one from now until the move, thus I would make it a fossil-hunting weekend. I would spend Friday in Aurora, NC and Saturday at Green's Mill Run, a creek in Greenville, NC.

As fate would have it (though we will soon see that the result would have been the same with any weekend, fate or no) a dude by the name of MikeDOTB (Michael Taggert) on the Fossil Forum, was also making the exact same trip this weekend. We decided to meet at the shark-digging piles at the Aurora Fossil Museum on Friday (Note to parents in NC - TAKE YOUR KIDS HERE! Free digging teeth by the thousands to their little hearts' content). Mike said he would be there by 7AM and I would try to get there by 9AM (it's a 3.5 hour drive for me).

NOTE: See Mike's Trip Report here - he has some amazing shark teeth!

I was too excited. I couldn't sleep at all the night before. So I slid out of bed and out the door at 3AM arriving at the piles in Aurora by 6:30AM. (The piles are Pungo River Formation sediment - age ~18-22 million years -  donated by the nearby PCS phosphate mine).

It was just me. Not a soul in sight anywhere. Alone - in a beautiful dawn with giant piles of Miocene sediment to sift through at my leisure.

I saw my first tooth within about ten seconds of glancing at the piles. My collection grew fast and linearly from that point onward. Before too very long, a nice man showed up to sift as well. It turned out that he was a Fossil Forum member too (runner50) - a Kansas Science teacher on a trip around the country to spread his recently deceased wife's ashes at their favorite locations (including St. Claire, Pennsylvania which has some amazing fern fossils, which he showed me). Many of the ancient teeth he was collecting were for his students/class. Despite the sadness of his tale, it was incredibly heartening to meet such a man teaching in Kansas, a place we all probably know needs good science teachers!

In the wild

In "the wild"

Mike showed up later than he had planned, but as soon as he got there we hit another nearby pile, meeting a guy named Brian in the process. We chatted for quite a few hours as the three of us sifted for teeth in a couple different locations. Brian, another Fossil Forum member, gave me a dolphin vertebra among other things.

Dolphin Vertebra - Thanks Brian!!

Dolphin Vertebra - Thanks Brian!!

Fossil enthusiasts are awesome people, based on the few I've met!

Mike, Brian, and Me - sifting the piles in Aurora, NC

Mike, Brian, and Me - sifting the piles in Aurora, NC

Mike, showing how its done with his giant 1/2 mesh screen

Mike, showing how it's done with his giant 1/2'' mesh screen

The piles

The piles

I almost look like a real paleontologist. Or not...

I almost look like a real paleontologist. Or not...

Before the day was up I had amassed a huge pile of little shark teeth, though no lunkers had given themselves up. I had already watched in envy as Mike pulled several beautiful teeth from the piles. However, I wasn't really jealous, as I was too excited from the insane numbers of teeth I  was finding with my smaller 1/4" mesh screen. After about 13 hours straight (no lunch break or anything), darkness began to loom. So Mike decided to collapse the pile we had been digging into. Wet internal sediment began falling and we both began picking through it as more fell. In about a third of a second a shiny glint caught my eye in the muddy dirt. I snapped at it like a greedy hungry chicken.

It was a big Extinct Giant Mako (Isurus hastalis)!

Extinct Giant Mako make-o me happy

Extinct Giant Mako make-o me happy

Also, it had a small bit of feeding damage at the very tip (which makes it only cooler to me). Now go back and compare that to my first teeth from Topsail...

Without further ado, I give you the rest of my collection from Friday, filled with makos, tigers, sand tigers, snaggletooths, cow sharks, and even one small  nearly complete tooth and some pieces of megatoothed sharks (C. megalodon and/or chubitensis).

Note: I have zero tooth ID skills, so forgive any errors. There are almost certainly teeth "out of place"! I arranged these pretty quickly.

(Click for larger)

The Catch

The Multi-Million Year Old Catch

Arent they pretty?

Aren't they pretty?

A few of these were given to me by Mike - I don't remember which ones. Thanks Mike! He also gave me the coolest thing I now own...keep reading.

Tigers and Snaggletooths

Snaggletooths and Tigers

Sand Tigers et al

Sand Tigers et al

Megalodon/Chubiitensis?

Megalodon/Chubitensis?

Makos, Giant megalodon chunck, and others...

Makos, giant megalodon chunk, and others...

Lemon sharks and others?

Requiems, Coppers, Hammerheads? No idea...

Broken cow sharks

Broken cow sharks

Ray dental plates (for grinding munchies)

Ray dental plates (for grinding munchies)

The little guys (Mike estimated ~1200 total teeth)

The little guys (Mike estimated ~1200 total teeth)

Did you know a single shark can go through 30,000 teeth in a lifetime?

Did you know a single shark can go through 30,000 teeth in a lifetime?

And of course, I found some other cool stuff as well...

Shark Vertebrae

Shark Vertebrae

How cool is that?

How cool is that?

Coral

Coral

Love the detail in these things!

Love the detail in these things!

So I had a great haul - and searing back and arms as payment to Mother Nature for her bounty. But back pain or no, we had another whole day to go.

Mike and I high-tailed it to Greenville and crashed at the Motel 6, after spending at least an hour rinsing and gawking at our fossils. Mike gave me most of his teeth, except for the near perfect ones he deemed fitting for his collection. What an awesome dude!

Then again, this is a guy who has 30,000 teeth! Also, he seemed to know every single shark species, their scientific names, whom is thought to have begat whom evolutionarily, and he could instantly tell the ID of each tooth. Oh yeah, and remember how I said "Fate" had led me to want this trip at the exact same time that Mike announced that he was planning a trip? Yeah, well, he has gone on this trip almost every weekend since January.

Yeah - he's an enthusiast alright... Thanks Mike - you rock!

We awoke the next morning and headed for the dirty, trash-filled, broken glass-laden creek running near East Carolina University campus known as "Green's Mill Run." This place is famous for yielding big megalodons and great whites (and ancient soft drink bottles and bongs). The creek cuts through layers from the cretaceous to the pliocene, so things found in it can range from about 2.5 to 145 million years old!

The story was much the same at "GMR". I found quite a few great teeth (though I didn't feel as inclined to pick up every tiny tooth after the previous day), including another awesome Mako.

This was while I was still clean...

This was while I was still clean...

Mike found an AMAZING great white, and lot's of other great teeth - many of which he gave to me.

Mikes Great Whites - beautiful

Mike's Great Whites

I sat and watched an awesome freshwater eel hunting minnows in one beautifully sunny pool - a first for me. We didn't have freshwater eels in NW Arkansas (that I'm aware of).

Mike found and gave me what I easily consider the coolest fossil I now own (he already has several): the fossilized inner ear bone of a whale. What kind? not a clue.

Whales inner earbone

Whale's inner earbone

We visited one particular spot in the creek that cuts through this crazy shell layer filled with huge scallops and various mollusks.

Sea Scallop (as opposed to land scallop)

Fossil Sea Scallop (as opposed to land scallop)

Some sort of big bivalve - and WHOLE!

Some sort of big bivalve - whole and heavy!

By 6PM my back and arms would not let me sift a single more shovel load. Thus we called it a day.

Here's the total haul from Saturday:

The GMR Catch

The GMR Catch

What would have been HUGE megalodons, a very nice Mako, and a root-less great white

What would have been HUGE megalodons, a very nice Mako, and a rootless great white

The Makos and the White

The Makos and the White

The other shark teeth

The other shark teeth

Another cool fossil that exists by the millions in GMR is the belemnite. Belemnites were cephalopods related to modern cuttlefish. Only one part of it's body is normally fossilized: a calcite rod in it's body that assists in maintaining proper buoyancy. These things are just cool looking - orange and long and pointy, with a translucent character in the water.

Fossilized Belemnite guards (or rostrum)

Fossilized Belemnite guards (or rostrum)

And finally, the creek has quite a lot of pieces of whalebone:

Fossilized whale bone

Fossilized whale bone (and a cretaceous oyster - according to Mike)

All in all, this was by far the coolest natural history excursion I've been on (or perhaps second best behind a trip to Big Bend where I found an ammonite 4 feet in diameter - I left it there).  If you read this far - I hope you enjoyed my tale. If you didn't...well... you can't see this anyway.

The total weekend haul!

The total weekend haul!

Cat included for scale :)

Cat included for scale :)

Next up: fossil hunting in Pennsylvania in the next month or two! When exactly or where I don't know. But it will be fun!

18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.4 – Plants & Fungi

Spring is Here!

This Nature Walk edition continues from #4.3 - Reptiles, Amphibians, & Mammals.

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Plants

I have next to zero skills when it comes to identifying plant species.  As such, the following will consist mostly of images with no real description. Don't get me wrong - I love me some botany. However, every time I learn a new plant, at least five other pieces of information fall from my skull. I'm just not that knowledgeable on  plants.

One defining characteristic of the Chapel Hill/Triangle region of North Carolina in the Spring is the blanketing of the land by invasive (but beautiful) Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). This stuff is everywhere, covering large swaths of canopy, much like the invasive Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) which is also from China.

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Wisteria

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) - a perennial Easter visual pleasure

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina Domestica) - Okay, so this is an ornamental as well.  It's still cool.

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina Domestica)

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina Domestica)

My property has quite a few various native ferns growing wild throughout the woods. I particularly love them this time of year when the new young leaves are still "fiddleheads."

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

Fern

Fern fiddlehead

I found this tiny unknown wildflower in the woods as well (anyone care to ID?):

Unknown flower

Unknown flower

I really love these very tiny spring flowers, also found wild in the woods.  They are Azure Bluets or Quaker ladies (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Azure Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Another ornamental from home - the classic early bloomer Forsythia.

Forsythia

Forsythia

Climbing ivy from my front yard:

Ivy

Ivy

Ivy

Ivy

A random pretty leaf growing on the forest floor.  I found lots of these and would love to know what they are...

Unknown leaf

Unknown leaf

I took this shot just because it was really a quite lovely scene. The sun shone bright as a breeze drifted through a huge expanse of grass on campus.

Grass

Grass

A nice unfinished (and apparently abandoned) beaver-felled tree:

Beaver-felled tree

Beaver-felled tree

Epiphytic plants growing in a tree (technically these are probably not even normal epiphytes - the tree is basically acting like a pot, so the plants are probably in the ground for all they are concerned):

Plants in a tree

Plants in a tree

My ornamental peach:

<br /> Ornamental peach

Ornamental peach

The ground of my property is also covered in a variety of mosses:

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Moss

Fungi

Finally, I found a nice set of Puffball Fungi growing on the base of a tree. I have no idea what they are beyond that...

Puffball Fungus

Puffball Fungus

And that is the end of this latest collection of my observations of nature. The reason I love doing this is that it gives me the perfect excuse to do a little research and learn a little bit about the organisms surrounding me, particularly on how to identify them.

Hopefully, you all get a little bit out of it as well.

See the rest of this Nature Walk:

18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.3 – Reptiles, Amphibians, & Mammals

Spring is Here!

This Nature Walk edition continues from #4.2 - Birds.

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Reptiles

One creature that exists by the thousands at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science is the turtle. If my identification skills serve me right, these are Florida Cooters (Pseudemys floridana) - though they could be one of a few different slider turtles. I really love the fact that there are turtles called cooters!

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Cooters perched on a beaver lodge

Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

Dead cooter. As Steve Irwin would say (in that awesome Aussie accent), "It's nature's way."

Amphibians

I just happened to look in a ditch at the spot where I eat my lunch. What did I see but hundreds of tadpoles.

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

Back in the swamp behind my house, which is currently flooded and filled with millions of chirping frogs, I came across quite a few Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans), though it was nigh impossible to get a shot of them.

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans)

Mammals

I happened to glance down a swath of land cleared for a high-power transmission line and saw a familiar lone figure staring back at me. It was a White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Of course, these are a dime a dozen at my workplace as I've shown you before. Yesterday I managed to get a good shot of a deer's backside as he looked back at me.  You can even see the nubs of his little antlers poking through.

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

"Take a Picture - It Will Last Longer"

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

"Get one of my guns too!"

Also in the flooded marsh behind my property, almost every single surface was covered with the shape of deer hooves.

Deer Tracks

Deer Tracks

If I don't see at least fifty Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) in a day...I probably haven't gotten out of bed.

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Ain't he cute?

As a rare treat, I managed to spot the elusive Carolina Forest Cow (Bos notrealicus).

Cow

Carolina Forest Cow (Bos notrealicus)

And finally, in the wee hours of a beautiful Spring morn, I awoke to the bloodcurdling hungry cries (and annoying paws to my sleeping face) of three not-so-big Carolina wildcats:

The Rare White Ocelot (Felix spoiledieai)

Cat

Rare White Ocelot (Felix spoiledieai)

The Marbled Manx (Felix epililepticus)

Cat

Marbled Manx (Felix epililepticus)

The Pygmy Jaguar (Felix obnoxious)

Cat

Pygmy Jaguar (Felix obnoxious)

Apparently all three of these magnificent beasts are part of some scientific study. You can tell by the radiotelemetric tracking tags affixed to their necks.

See the rest of this Nature Walk:

18Apr/09Off

Nature Walk #4.2 – Birds

Spring is Here!

This Nature Walk edition continues from #4.1 - Arthopods.

I've broken this post up into four parts due to the large number of images:

The images are highly compressed for bandwidth's sake, but you can click on the images for larger versions (and a few are much deserving of an extra click).

As always feel free to give me any species identifications where I have failed to do so or done so incorrectly.

Birds

Other than all the other scurrying, fluttering, swimming, and pulsing critters of the world, birds are my favorite.

I've managed to snap quite a few good bird images over the past few days (though more eluded me, such as the dastardly killdeer that continually thwarted my focusing attempts). Here are some of them.

First, the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis). This bird was hanging out over by the Environmental Protection Agency (near the NIEHS). It was quite a distant shot, but turned out pretty well, considering. I am rarely able to get close enough to bluebirds around here. They're just so skittish.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

This next is my favorite bluebird image ever. Today I just happened to walk by this birdhouse nestled in in the woods at the treeline (the NIEHS campus is covered with them), and I saw this single eye staring out at me.  Priceless!

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

"Please don't eat me, please don't eat me, please don't eat me!"

And the cutest thing I've seen this spring: a Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) mother with eleven ducklings.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Swimming among the algal mats - Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Check out the front baby's face! - Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

And to top it off, I even have some video:

As I've mentioned before, one of the great things about the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (and the EPA) is the large lake in the middle of campus. We are a stopping ground for all sorts of migratory water fowl, with several species appearing and dissappearing throughout the year. (see the ruddy ducks from a previous Nature Walk)

One bird that I've seen alot of this year is the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

So regal!

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

"Do I look fatter to you?"

Of course, our campus is infamous for the gazillion Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) that stalk the grounds.  Right now the females are mostly nested, with the males hovering nearby - both ready to start a hissy fit (literally) if you get near the nests.

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

"Back off!"

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

"And you think we don't have teeth"

To truly appreciate their menacing display (more hiss than bite) you must see the video:

Don't worry - this goose was not overly stressed by me.  They nest about 3 feet from the walking trail. This female makes this display probably about a hundred times per day as each jogger strolls by.  It's quite hilarious actually. One has to admire their ability to keep up the front (I know of quite a few people who find them dangerous and terrifying - trust me, they are neither once you've figured out their game. It's the same as a defensive opossum: open your mouth and hiss alot - that's it).

As I was walking along, a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) plopped down right next to me.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) coming in for a landing

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Back at the homestead, I captured another priceless avian expression: an American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) suddenly noticing that I had snuck up behind the feeder.

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

Nearby, a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) skittered up the huge poplar tree in my front yard:

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

A Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched as well.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

Finally, I managed to capture a far away American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) scoping the farmland below for tasty treats. I grew up calling these "Sparrow Hawks," which is apparently a common misnomer - they are actually falcons (not hawks).

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Who says the dinosaurs went extinct?

See the rest of this Nature Walk: